It's hard to imagine the gifts of sobriety when we feel hopelessly addicted to alcohol or other drugs. The broken relationships, the financial ruin, the loss of self-esteem: addiction is terribly painful. And the pain provokes us to numb it away with alcohol or other drugs. And so we become caught in the cycle of addiction, where we lose all hope for a happy, stable life.
It's not our fault, of course. Addiction is a disease. But many of us are unfamiliar with that concept, or we struggle to internalize it until we get into recovery. On top of that, society still misunderstands addiction: it looks (and even feels) like we simply choose not to stay sober, like we choose to hurt ourselves or our loved ones. Like we choose to lose all hope.
It's not a choice. We don't have much free will in addiction. Our addicted brains have rewired themselves to treat alcohol or other drugs as a matter of survival. Our brains believe—above food, shelter, love and everything else—that we will die if we fail to drink or use other drugs. For some withdrawals, that might prove true. So where's our choice in that? Should we fault ourselves for surviving? Never.
Addiction is not final. It is the rising action that climaxes with recovery, the storm before the calm, the painful lens through which we come to truly understand ourselves. And it will all be worth it. Once we leave behind alcohol and other drugs, we will be stronger for the journey.
Whether you have yet to enter recovery or are already in recovery, you have more to look forward to. Once sober, you can focus strictly on the good inside you and nurture that budding hope that life can be so much better. Farther down, we outline five of the most important gifts of sobriety. Rest assured: you can quit, you can stay sober and you can make for yourself a new life in recovery that is full of gifts.
"During our life in addiction, most of us were incapable of looking at ourselves in the mirror. Over time, though, you will know that everything you went through, all of the struggle and hurt, was for a reason."*
The first gift of sobriety is the treasure of acceptance, which is absolutely vital to our long-term happiness. It allows us to see the things we once disliked about our circumstances, ourselves and other people for what they are—without trying to constantly fix them. That's why so many people in recovery find great relief in the serenity prayer: "Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."
Once we begin to accept those pain points—our pasts, our addictions, and all the stressors and struggles of daily life—we can then view our journey and hardships as catalysts for great change. Ultimately, all our past pain brought us here to this happy life in recovery. And that's worth celebrating.
"When alcohol and other drugs are gone, you will get a chance to know the real you. You may have been told that you were a bad person in the past due to what you did during your addiction. You may have even believed it, but your true self is the one who is sober. You may be amazed at how good of a person you truly are."
Recovery gifts us the amazing ability to see ourselves realistically. Contrary to popular opinion, humility is not where we think lowly of ourselves. It is a simple and realistic understanding of self—our egos neither fattened nor trimmed. It is closer to the sensation of gazing at the thick web of stars in a deep country sky, where we all come to understand the natural scale of life. Once we get and stay sober, we carry this feeling wherever we go.
When we are humbled in recovery, we accept all our faults and enable our strengths, knowing in our bones that we are loveable and imperfect and worthy of our own respect. We need neither diminish ourselves nor project ourselves into any situation. We peacefully exist, and we do good wherever we can.
"I am thankful that I can still remember my addiction in detail. Why? Because not only has it kept me humble and grateful, it also inspires me to help those who are still struggling."
Once we humbly accept our addiction and all of life's painful realities, we can manifest a grateful, gracious attitude. Of course there are troubles in our lives. But now we are presented the chance to elevate our focus to those things worth celebrating: the love and respect of our family and friends, the beauty in everyday life and the bounty of riches we already have (both material and spiritual).
Then we can opt out of the material race and cherish our lives. We begin to see that we already have plenty, and there are indeed others who have much less. We can uplift those people, thereby uplifting ourselves. And we can celebrate every moment we have left in this crazy, beautiful world.
"Having gone through all of this, you will now be able to help others who are still stuck in their addictions. You will be the one who inspires others to want to be in recovery."
When we first enter into recovery, we need a lot of help and encouragement. It's not that recovery is complicated. It's pretty simple in its fundamentals. But drug addiction and drinking left its toll on our self-esteem, value systems and relationships. We need a support network where people uplift us and model for us all of recovery's gifts. Then we begin to understand that we are not broken people. We are capable of giving and receiving love, of cherishing friends and family members, of getting and staying sober.
Once people have demonstrated to us the power and love behind healthy human connections, we can bring that into all our relationships. And eventually we can demonstrate for others those same powers and perpetuate a new cycle of recovery and connection that dismantles the destructive loop of addiction.
"You will still have bad days, sadness, and pain, but the longer you are in recovery, the more confidence you will have that you can get through all of this sober. You do not need to rely on a substance—you have yourself to rely on, and that will become more than enough."
All of these blessings form the ultimate gift of recovery: you. Untethered from the traumatic pull of addiction, restored from its destruction of values and brought home to your family and friends, you will finally have you back. And there's no greater gift than that.
If you or someone you know is struggling with maintained sobriety, please reach out to Hazelden Betty Ford for answers and help at 1-866-831-5700. You don't need to manage the situation alone. Substance use disorders of all varieties are common and treatable, and there is no shame in needing help with addiction. We're here for you.
*All quotes have been excerpted from Katherine McGovern, who wrote the previous version of this web page.